“I don’t think a lot of people know that I am Greek,” says 37-capped Socceroo James Troisi.
After almost a decade of playing football in Europe and Australia, Troisi’s Greek heritage from his mother’s side still isn’t as commonly known as his paternal Italian heritage.
Coupled with his non-Greek sounding last name and time spent playing in Italy after being signed by Juventus earlier in his career, for years many believed his roots were Latin European.
But as Neos Kosmos found out Troisi is very Greek, in fact the 29-year-old revealed that he says a prayer before he steps out onto the field.
“I am Greek Orthodox,” he says. “It’s a big part of me. It’s the way I have been brought up. As much as I can, I try and practice that and go to Church at Easter. So yes, it’s a big part of who I am. I used to go to Greek school when I was younger. But now I know more Italian, because I lived there. But I am sure if I lived in Greece for a year then I would pick up the language straight away as well. I’m sure that if some Greek clubs found that I have a Greek passport there would be a little bit of interest. But I don’t think people know, because my surname is Italian.”
What is ironic about this heritage business is that Troisi didn’t realise that his two appearances at the 2014 World Cup meant he became the first Greek Australian to play on the world’s biggest sporting stage.
“No, I didn’t know that,” he says. “Playing in Brazil – it’s everything you dream of as a kid. Going to a World Cup and representing your country, it’s the pinnacle of anyone’s career. Very few get to do that. I don’t know if I would call it luck as obviously it has been a lot of hard work, but I guess I was lucky enough to have gone to one.”
Troisi says that playing at the World Cup under coach Ange Postecoglou brought many happy memories. One moment that stands out occurred just a few months after Brazil when playing in front of 82,000 fans in Sydney he scored the winner in the final of the Asian Cup against Korea.
“To do it in Australia was massive,” he says. “It was massive for me to score the winner and that makes [it] a little bit extra special. I believe that people in Australia still don’t recognise what we achieved. It might sink in [in] the future. We speak about the Golden Generation and we should give them credit. But for that group of players under Ange, it was the first time we won silverware. Silverware can never be unwritten.”
Troisi added, “I was fortunate enough to go to the Beijing Olympics, I’ve been to one World Cup and hopefully I get to go to another. I’ve won A-League titles with Victory but in terms of all that, yes the World Cup is the pinnacle, but we’ve never won anything at the World Cup and it will be very difficult to ever do that, so winning the Asian Cup for me that is massive.”
Earlier this week, Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk selected Troisi along with fellow Hellenes Dimi Petratos, Alex Gersbach and Apostolos Giannou in a 32-player preliminary squad. The Melbourne Victory midfielder says that it shows how well Greek Australian players are doing at the moment.
“It’s a good thing to see,” he says. “There are a lot of different cultures in the squad, but the special thing is that you just all come together, and it is good to see your fellow countrymen being involved. There are a couple of Greeks at Victory as well. I think it’s just in our culture. It was the way we were brought up. Football is kind of in our blood – it is our number one sport.”
Next week the Socceroos assemble in Turkey for the start of their pre-tournament training camp and Troisi hopes to be included in the final World Cup squad of 23 when it is announced on 3 June.
“It would be fantastic,” he says. “It’s what you dream of. I’ve been to one and you just want to try and get to as many as you can. In terms of the selections, that’s not in my hands. That’s not in any player’s hands. The most you can do is perform week in week out.”
What is in Troisi’s favour for nailing down a spot for Russia was his involvement with Melbourne Victory’s Grand Final winning campaign. The talented midfielder’s goal against Sydney FC in the semifinal was a reminder of the Socceroos talent, and the 29-year-old is optimistic that van Marwijk took notice.
“Winning the league is obviously a massive boost and hopefully he likes what he sees, and he sees me as a part of his team,” he says.
“To be honest everyone will be saying the same thing. You just have to perform and play a lot of games. I think between the start of the season and now we’ve played close to 40 games. You need to tick as many boxes as you can and hopefully I’ve done enough.”
When Australia played at last year’s Confederations Cup against Chile, Troisi scored in the 1-1 draw and he says performances like that proves the Socceroos’ can match it with the world’s best.
“That was massive, I actually got player of the match in that game,” he says. “It was probably one of the best games in Australia’s football history. That gave me massive amounts of confidence. It shows that just because you’re Australian and you’re not South American, Argentinian, or Brazilian it doesn’t mean that you can’t mix it with the big boys. For me, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, where you’re brought up, what your background is or what country you’re playing in – I played in that game and if you look at Chile’s team there are some of the best players in the world. I scored a goal and got player of the match. In terms of my games for Australia that is probably one of the best performances personally and as a team.”
Australia’s group in Russia includes France, Peru, and Denmark, and Troisi is confident the Socceroos have a great chance to make it past the knockout stages for the first time since the 2006 World Cup campaign.
“That’s the main aim, to try and do as well as we can and get through to the next group stages,” he says.
“In every group you can beat any team that you come up against. It’s tough. It’s definitely not easy and it shouldn’t be easy. It’s definitely not easy getting to the World Cup let alone getting to the next stage or games in general. We’re going to go there and do our best to get through to the next group.”